Facebook muscles into news business with Instant Articles platform

  • Siladitya Ray, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 14, 2015 13:35 IST

Facebook has begun rolling out an "Instant Articles" platform that will push articles from 9 leading publishers, including The New York Times, BBC, The Guardian and BuzzFeed, into the timelines of users.

The new platform, initially launched for iPhones, will load articles on Facebook’s app 10 times faster than before. The articles, to be hosted on Facebook’s servers, are designed to create a faster and better experience than the typical eight-second wait for an article to load on the mobile web.

Under the terms of Facebook’s plan, news publishers can either sell and embed advertisements in the articles and keep all the revenue, or allow Facebook to sell ads. Publishers will also be allowed to track data and traffic through their own analytics tools.

"Instant Articles lets them deliver fast, interactive articles while maintaining control of their content and business models," said Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox in a promotional video.

Facebook’s mobile platform, which boasts 1.25 billion users, is expected to attract publisher eager to collect eyeballs and dollars from digital ad spending.

For now, the publishers involved in the initial rollout – The New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC and The Atlantic launch on Wednesday morning; The Guardian, BBC News, Spiegel and Bild later – describe their participation as an “experiment”.

There are no commitments from any of the publishers to run a certain number of articles on Facebook, and any publisher can walk out at any point.

But if the platform becomes successful, and Facebook establishes dominance in distributing news online, publishers could become more dependent on a platform they have very little control over.

Those concerns haven’t stopped big partners from signing up.


The articles will be hosted on Facebook’s servers(Photo: Facebook)

Popular tech blog Recode wrote: "Soon, many more publishers may feel that they don’t have a choice. Whatever happens, the arrival of instant articles marks a turning point in the evolution of the news."

Some publishers may find dealing with Facebook unnerving because the social network is already so big and important to publishers – for many sites, it has surpassed Google as their chief referral source.

The platform allows for a lot of rich content. Publications get their logo on top of every story, along with a "follow" button that users can click to subscribe to their Facebook page and get more stories.

Publishers can also opt to include authors’ and photographers’ Facebook photos at the top of the story. Clicking on the photos takes users to their profiles and lets them to subscribe to their public posts.

The body of the story can contain photos, image galleries and videos, and publishers can use a web view to embed objects like tweets and interactive graphics.

Facebook has built a handful of special interactions for Instant Articles, and is working on more. Photos can have audio captions, allowing a kind of internal narration for stories. Photos can also be geo-tagged, and tapping the name of the location opens an interactive map. Users can like and comment on individual photos within stories.

(With agency inputs)

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